How to make VST, AU & AAX Plugins: 7 easy steps, no coding

How to make VST, AU & AAX Plugins without coding.

By Jonathan Vardouniotis — 8 April 2024

How to make VST, AU & AAX Plugins.

If you want to create virtual instruments and effects, you should learn how to make your own VST, AU & AAX Plugins. It’s easy to create plugins without coding, and produce high-quality results without too much time or effort. You could make new plugins for your own songs, or even share & sell them online to others!

This guide will show you how to make your own virtual instrument plugin, in 7 easy steps, without coding.

What are VST plugins?

VST (and AU & AAX) plugins are audio programs, that can be used to add extra instrument sounds or effects to most audio or composition software. Virtual Instrument plugins can be designed to sound like a real musical instrument, like Arcadia: Grand Piano, allowing music composers to playback their compositions with more realistic sounds. Or they can have more experimental sounds, like Atmospheres, providing new types of virtual instruments to modern sound designers.

Arcadia: Grand Piano, a virtual instrument plugin.

Plugin development traditionally required extensive coding experience & long timeframes, but now modern tools can help you make your own audio plugins in minutes!

How to make VST, AU & AAX plugins

We’re going to break it into 7 easy steps, and guide you through each one. By the time you finish this article, you’ll have made your very own virtual instrument!

  1. Record some samples
  2. Prepare your recordings
  3. Setup your virtual instrument
  4. Configure the sounds
  5. Adjust the visual design
  6. Test your plugin
  7. Share it!

1. Record some samples

The first step to making your instrument plugin is recording the sounds it will play! It’s easiest if you decide on a few things before you start recording:

  • What instrument or sound will you record?
  • If it’s a traditional instrument, like a piano; will you record every note or just a few?
  • If it’s something more experimental, like a soundscape; will you record multiple versions of the sound for your instrument to randomly play between?

You can record sounds (called samples) with your phone, or use a professional microphone for better quality. Try to avoid too much background noise in your samples.

Start simple; Record a few notes on a piano.

2. Prepare your recordings

For this tutorial, we’re going to provide instructions for traditional instruments, but you can still follow along if you’re creating a more experimental plugin too.

Consider whether you need to edit your recordings to make sure they’re in tune, or to apply any special effects.

Time-saving tip; Rename your files for each note.

Save your recordings as one note per file, trimming out any silent audio. Store them as .mp3, .wav, or .flac files. You could also name each file as the note name or number you recorded (e.g. C#3 or 61) to save time later, but this isn’t essential. If you’re after a quick instrument just to test things out, you can even just use a single audio file & let your plugin re-pitch it automatically!

3. Setup your virtual instrument

Now you’ve got your samples sorted, it’s time to get started on your actual plugin. One of the easiest ways to make your own virtual instrument plugin is using Elemental Studio; you can make a VST, AU & AAX plugin in minutes, without coding, and without any other company’s branding on it. Download a free trial, which will let you publish as many plugins as you want over 7 days, with no restrictions.

Add your plugin’s details; see your changes in the live preview.

After you’ve got Elemental Studio installed, open it and choose ‘New Instrument’. Then type in your instrument’s name, your name, and choose a nice image and colour to be used in your instrument’s design. A live preview is on the right of the screen.

4. Configure the sounds

Importing your samples is the most important step to make a virtual instrument. It transforms your recordings from individual files to a playable instrument.

Importing samples into Elemental Studio.

If you named all your audio files with the note name or number in the previous steps, you can use the Batch Import function to import and sort every file instantly. At the bottom of the window, set the first dropdown in the File Name Structure section to ‘Root Note’, and make every other dropdown blank. Then click the Import Folder button and choose the folder holding all your audio files.

If you didn’t rename your sample files earlier, that’s ok too! Just click the + icon to add a new Sound Set and choose the sound set’s name. Sound Sets are groups of audio files that you can switch between, for example they might be different articulations like sustained, staccato & muted.

Then look at the Note Range column, and use the + button to add one. Add the pitch of your audio sample in the Root Note box, e.g. C3 or 60 for middle C on the piano; you can use the onscreen keyboard’s labels to help you. If you want to automatically re-tune the sound over a range of notes, change the Low & High boxes to cover the desired pitch range of your sound. Finally, click + in the Velocity column (you can use this space to adjust what dynamics your sample will play at), and drag your audio sample file from your computer into the Samples column.

At any time you can click the Reload Preview Samples button and play notes on the onscreen keyboard to hear what your instrument sounds like. Congratulations, your instrument plugin is nearly finished!

5. Adjust the visual design

It’s time to make your plugin look incredible! Click over to the Preview tab in the top menu bar, and choose between colours and images for the instrument’s background. If you choose to use an image, make sure to add your own text labels for all the controls, in a font that suits your plugin’s style. There’s some handy templates to help you do that here.

Change the look & feel of your plugin.

Finally, save your project & click export in the top bar. This will instantly export your instrument for Elemental Player. If you want to export as an actual, independent plugin instead, quickly flick into the Publishing tab, choose export as ‘VST3, AU & AAX Plug-ins’, and specify where your plugin will look for it’s sample files on your computer before clicking export! If you export a plugin instead of an Elemental Player instrument, the process will take around 10 minutes.

6. Test your plugin

Check out the incredible work you’ve done! If you exported as an Elemental Player instrument, open Elemental Player, import your instrument and try it out. If you made an independent plugin instead, follow the instructions in the exported folder to install your plugin & samples, then try out your instrument in your DAW.

Load your new instrument in Elemental Player, or its own independent plugin.

7. Share it!

Share your new plugin with friends, or even sell it for income online. If you’re looking for ways to protect your instrument and distribute it as a sellable product, Organic Instruments offers a comprehensive content protection service so you can sell license codes for your plugin, and securely encrypt your audio sample files. We’re also always looking for free or paid instruments built with Elemental Studio that we can share on our website, so if you’ve created something unique, get in touch!

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